Caribbean music and the world

Introduction

Jamaica has been the staging post for much of the Caribbean Music around the world, but the reality and mix of all the West Indies slave music is much more complicated than that. From Mento (1940-1950’s) to Calypso (mid 19th centrury), from Rocksteady (1966) to Ska (1950’s) to Reggae (late 1960’s) to Dancehall (late 1970’s) and Dub (late 1960’s early 1970’s) produced by this region of just 4.8 million people and known the world over.

Trinidad & Tobago – Calypso onward

The Trinidadian Calypso/Soca (So[ul] of ca[lypso] (1970’s), Steelpan music are popular in Jamaica. Popular Calypso/Soca artists from Jamaica include Byron Lee (mid 1950’s), Fab 5 (late 1960’s), and Lovindeer (early 1970’s). Harry Belafonte (born in the U.S., raised in Jamaica from age 5 to 13) introduced American audiences to Calypso music (which had originated in Trinidad & Tobago in the early 20th century), and Belafonte was dubbed the ‘King of Calypso’. Mento is often confused with Calypso.

Jamaica Mento to Dub

Mento is a style of Jamaican music that predates and has greatly influenced Ska and Reggae music. Mento typically features acoustic instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, hand drums, and the Rhumba Box (Marimbula), like a large Mbira in the shape of a box that can be sat on while played. The Rhumba Box carries the bass part of the music. Lord Flea (1950’s) and Count Lasher (1950’s-1970’s) are two of the more successful Mento artists.

Bob Marley, reggae superstar. Photo by 56 Hope Road Archives

The music of Jamaica includes Jamaican Folk Music and many popular genres, such as Mento, Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae, Dub, Dancehall, Ska Jazz, Reggae Fusion (1970’s) and related styles. Jamaica’s music culture is a fusion of elements from the United States –Rhythm ‘n’ Blues (1940’s) and Soul (1950-60’s), Africa, and neighbouring Caribbean islands such as Trinidad & Tobago (Calypso/Soca). Reggae is especially popular through the international fame of Bob Marley (1960′ to early 1980’s).

Jamaican music’s influence on music styles in other countries includes the practice of Toasting, which was brought to New York City and evolved into Rapping. British genres as Lovers Rock and Jungle Music are also influenced by Jamaican music.

Haiti (Louisiana) Creole and beyond

In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory, including New Orleans, from France. In 1809 and 1810, more than 10,000 refugees from the West Indies arrived in New Orleans, most originally from French speaking Haiti. Of these, about 3,000 were freed slaves. Creole Folk Songs originated on the plantations of the French and Spanish colonists of Louisiana. The music characteristics embody African-derived syncopated rhythms, the Habanera accent of Spain, and the Quadrille of France. Central to Creole musical activities was Place Congo (New Orleans). There are links also to Cajun Music and not just the French language but the Zouk and Zydeco styles and the crossover of instruments in particular the accordion.

A brief History of the Spread of Caribbean Music

The British/Anglo-Caribbeans played a large part in spreading the music in particular forms of reggae, Bob Marley used the UK as a launch pad and a place he referred to as his second home.

As in many Anglo-Caribbean Caribbean islands, the Calypso music of Trinidad & Tobago has become part of the culture of Jamaica. Jamaica’s own local music Mento is often confused with Calypso music. Although the two share many similarities, they are separate and distinct musical forms. During the mid-20th century, Mento was conflated with calypso, and Mento was frequently referred to as Calypso, Kalypso and Mento Calypso. Mento singers frequently used Calypso songs and techniques. As in Calypso, Mento uses topical lyrics with a humorous slant, commenting on poverty and other social issues. Sexual innuendos are also common.

Mobile sound systems that played American hits became popular in the 1950s in Kingston, Jamaica. Major figures in the early sound system scene included Duke Reid, Prince Buster and Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd. In 1958, due to a shortage of new material, the first local Rhythm ‘n’ Blues bands, most influentially the duo Higgs & Wilson (Joe Higgs and Roy Wilson), began recording to fulfill the local demand for new music.

From early in the 20th century, Jamaica produced many notable Jazz musicians. In this development the enlightened policy of the Alpha Boys School in Kingston, which provided training and encouragement in music education for its pupils, was very influential. Also significant was the brass band tradition of the island, strengthened by opportunities for musical work and training in military contexts. However, limited scope for making a career playing Jazz in Jamaica resulted in many local Jazz musicians leaving the island to settle in London or in the United States.

Among the most notable Jamaican Jazz instrumentalists who made successful careers abroad was alto saxophonist Joe Harriott, now regarded internationally as one of the most original and innovative of Jazz composers. Also internationally successful were trumpeters Dizzy Reece, Leslie ‘Jiver’ Hutchinson and Leslie Thompson, bassist Coleridge Goode, guitarist Ernest Ranglin and pianist Monty Alexander. Harriott, Goode, Hutchinson and Thompson built their careers in London, along with many other instrumentalists, such as pianist York de Souza and the outstanding saxophonist Bertie King, who later returned to Jamaica and formed a Mento style bands. Reece and Alexander worked in the US. Saxophonist Wilton ‘Bogey’ Gaynair settled in Germany working mainly with Kurt Edelhagen’s Orchestra.

Ska is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s, and was the precursor to Rocksteady and Reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean Mento and Calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues.

The first ever Ska recording was made by Count Ossie, a Nyabhingi drummer from the Rasta community. It is characterised by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the upbeat. In the early 1960’s, ska was the dominant music genre of Jamaica and was popular with British mods. Later it became popular with many skinheads.

Rocksteady is a music genre that originated in Jamaica around 1966. A successor to Ska and a precursor to Reggae, it was the music of Jamaica’s Rude Boys by the mid-1960’s, when The Wailers and The Clarendonians dominated the charts. Desmond Dekker’s ‘007’ brought international attention to the new genre. The mix put heavy emphasis on the bass line, as opposed to Ska’s strong horn section, and the rhythm guitar began playing on the upbeat. Session musicians like Supersonics, Soul Vendors, Jets and Jackie Mittoo (of the Skatalites) became popular during this period. Much was performed by Jamaican vocal harmony groups such as The Gaylads (included a young Bob Marley), The Maytals, and The Paragons. The term Rocksteady comes from a dance style that was mentioned in the Alton Ellis song ‘Rock Steady’. Dances performed to Rocksteady were less energetic than the earlier Ska dances. The first international Rocksteady hit was ‘Hold Me Tight (1968) by the American soul singer Johnny Nash, it reached number one in Canada.

In the late 1960’s, producers such as King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry began stripping the vocals away from tracks recorded for sound system parties. With the bare beats and bass playing and the lead instruments dropping in and out of the mix, Deejays began toasting, or delivering humorous and often provoking jabs at fellow Deejays and local celebrities. Over time, toasting became an increasingly complex activity, and became as big a draw as the dance beats played behind it. In the early 1970’s, Deejays such as DJ Kool Herc took the practice of toasting to New York City, where it evolved into Rap Music. The basic elements of hip-hop—boasting raps, rival posses, uptown throw-downs, and political commentary were all present in Trinidadian music as long ago as the 1800’s, though they did not reach the form of commercial recordings until the 1920’s and 30’s. Calypso like other forms of music continued to evolve through the 50’s and 60’s. When Rocksteady and Reggae bands looked to make their music a form of national and international Black resistance, they took Calypso’s example. Calypso itself, like Jamaican music, moved back and forth between the predominance of boasting and toasting songs packed with ‘slackness’ and sexual innuendo and a more topical, political, ‘conscious’ style.

Music historians typically divide the history of Ska into three periods: the original Jamaican scene of the 1960’s (First Wave), the English 2 Tone Ska revival of the late 1970’s (Second Wave) and the third wave Ska movement, which started in the 1980’s (Third Wave) and rose to popularity in the US in the 1990’s. The recent revival of Jamaican Jazz attempts to bring back the sound of early Jamaican music artists of the late 1950’s and 60’s.

DJ’s and toasting, along with the rise of ska came the popularity of Deejays such as Sir Lord Comic, King Stitt and pioneer Count Matchuki, who began talking stylistically over the rhythms of popular songs at sound systems. In Jamaican music, the Deejay is the one who talks (known elsewhere as the MC) and the selector is the person who chooses the records. The popularity of Deejays as an essential component of the sound system, and created a need for instrumental songs, as well as instrumental versions of popular vocal songs.

In the late 1960’s, producers such as King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry began stripping the vocals away from tracks recorded for sound system parties. With the bare beats and bass playing and the lead instruments dropping in and out of the mix, Deejays began toasting, or delivering humorous and often provoking jabs at fellow Deejays and local celebrities. Over time, toasting became an increasingly complex activity, and became as big a draw as the dance beats played behind it. In the early 1970’s, Deejays such as DJ Kool Herc took the practice of toasting to New York City, where it evolved into Rap Music. The basic elements of hip-hop—boasting raps, rival posses, uptown throw-downs, and political commentary were all present in Trinidadian music as long ago as the 1800’s, though they did not reach the form of commercial recordings until the 1920’s and 30’s. Calypso like other forms of music continued to evolve through the 50’s and 60’s. When Rocksteady and Reggae bands looked to make their music a form of national and international Black resistance, they took Calypso’s example. Calypso itself, like Jamaican music, moved back and forth between the predominance of boasting and toasting songs packed with ‘slackness’ and sexual innuendo and a more topical, political, ‘conscious’ style.

In the late 1960’s Reggae emerged as a reinterpretation of American Rhythm ‘n’ Blues. Reggae became popular around the world, due in large part to the international success of artists like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. Marley was viewed as a Rastafarian messianic figure by some fans, particularly throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and among Native Americans and Australian Aborigines. His lyrics about love, redemption and natural beauty captivated audiences, and he gained headlines for negotiating truces between the two opposing Jamaican political parties (at the One Love Concert), led by Michael Manley (PNP) and Edward Seaga.

By 1973, Dub Music had emerged as a distinct Reggae genre, and heralded the dawn of the remix. Developed by record producers such as Lee “Scratch” Perry and King Tubby, Dub featured previously recorded songs remixed with prominence on the bass. Often the lead instruments and vocals would drop in and out of the mix, sometimes processed heavily with studio effects. King Tubby’s advantage came from his intimate knowledge with audio gear, and his ability to build his own sound systems and recording studios that were superior to the competition. He became famous for his remixes of recordings made by others, as well as those he recorded in his own studio.

Other popular music forms that arose during the 1970’s include: In Briton Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Dub Poetry, Sly & Robbie’s Rockers Reggae, which drew on Augustus Pablo’s melodica, becoming popular with artists such as The Mighty Diamonds and The Gladiators, Joe Gibb’s mellower Rockers Reggae, including music by Culture and Dennis Brown, Burning Spear’s distinctive style, as represented by the albums Marcus Garvey and Man in the Hills and harmonic, spiritually-oriented Rasta Music like that of The Abyssinians, Black Uhuru and Third World. In 1975, Louisa Mark had a hit with ‘Caught You in a Lie’, beginning a trend of British performers making romantic, ballad-oriented Reggae called Lovers Rock.

Reggae and Ska had a massive influence on British Punk Rock and New Wave Bands of the 1970s, such as The Clash, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Police, The Slits, and The Ruts. Ska revival bands such as The Specials, Madness and The Selecter developed the 2 Tone genre.

During the 1980’s, the most popular music styles in Jamaica were Dancehall and Reggae. Dancehall is essentially speechifying with musical accompaniment, including a basic drum beat (most often played on electric drums). The lyrics moved away from the political and spiritual lyrics popular in the 1970’s and concentrate more on less serious issues. Ragga is characterized by the use of computerized beats and sequenced melodic tracks. Ragga is usually said to have been invented with the song ‘Under MiSlengTeng’ by Wayne Smith. Ragga barely edged out Dancehall as the dominant form of Jamaican music in the 1980s. DJ Shabba Ranks and vocalist team Chaka Demus & Pliers proved more enduring than the competition, and helped inspire an updated version of the Rude Boy culture called Raggamuffin.

Dancehall was sometimes violent in lyrical content, and several rival performers made headlines with their feuds across Jamaica most notably Beenie Man versus Bounty Killer. Dancehall emerged from pioneering recordings in the late 1970’s by Barrington Levy, with Roots Radics backing and Junjo Lawes as producer. The Roots Radics were the pre-eminent backing band for the Dancehall style. Yellowman, IniKamoze, Charlie Chaplin and General Echo helped popularize the style along with producers like Sugar Minott.

The 1980’s saw a rise in Reggae music from outside of Jamaica. During this time, Reggae particularly influenced African popular music, where Sonny Okusuns, John Chibadura, Lucky Dube and Alpha Blondy became stars. The 1980s saw the end of the dub era in Jamaica, although dub has remained a popular and influential style in the UK, and to a lesser extent throughout Europe and the US. Dub in the 1980s and 1990’s has merged with Electronic Music.

Variations of Dancehall continued to be popular into the mid-1990’s. Some of the performers of the previous decade converted to Rastafari, and changed their lyrical content. Artists like Buju Banton experienced significant crossover success in foreign markets, while Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and others developed a sizable North American following, due to their frequent guest spots on albums by Gangsta Rappers like Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z. Some Ragga musicians, including Beenie Man, Shabba Ranks and Capleton, publicly converted to a new lyrical style, in the hope that his new style of lyrics would not offend any one particular social group.

Reggae Fusion emerged as a popular subgenre in the late 1990’s. It is a mixture of reggae or Dancehall with elements of other genres such as Hip Hop, R&B, Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll or Indie Rock. It is closely related to Ragga Music. It originated in Jamaica, North America and Europe

The Bongo Nation is a distinct group of Jamaican’s possibly descended from the Congo. They are known for Kumina, which refers to both a religion and a form of music. Kumina’s distinctive drumming style became one of the roots of Rastafarian drumming, itself the source of the distinctive Jamaican rhythm heard in Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. The modern intertwining of Jamaican religion and music can be traced back to the 1860’s, when the Pocomania and Revival Zion churches drew on African traditions, and incorporated music into almost every facet of worship. Later, this trend spread into Hindu communities, resulting in Baccra music.

The spread of Rastafari into urban Jamaica in the 1960’s transformed the Jamaican music scene, which incorporated drumming (played at grounation ceremonies) and which has led to today’s popular music.

Other trends included minimalist digital tracks, which began with Dave Kelly’s ‘Pepper Seed‘ in 1995, alongside the return of love balladeers like Beres Hammond. American, British, and European electronic musicians used Reggae-oriented beats to create further Hybrid Electronic Music styles. Dub, World Music, and Electronic Music continue to influence music in the 2000’s.

Ja Folk Mix is a term coined by Jamaican musician Joy Fairclough, to mean the mix of Jamaican Folk Music with any foreign and local styles of music and the evolution of a new sound created by their fusion. This is the latest Jamaican Music stylistic development of the late 20th century and 21st century. Jamaican music continues to influence the world’s music. Many efforts at studying and copying Jamaican music has introduced the world to this new form of music as the copied styles are performed with accents linguistically and musically slanted to that of the home nation in which it is being studied, copied and performed.

What cannot be argued is the astonishing impact this music as had around the world even more if not equal to the slaves music of the USA.

Music for Your Ears

Byron Lee
Fab 5
Lovindeer
Harry Belafonte – ‘King of Calyso’
Lord Flea
Count Lasher
Bob Marley
Duke Reid
Prince Buster
Clement ‘Coxsone’ Dodd
Higgs & Wilson
Joe Harriott
Dizzy Reece
Leslie ‘Jiver’Hutchinson
Leslie Thompson
Coleridge Goode Ernest Ranglin
Monty Alexander
York de Souza
Bertie King
Wilton ‘Bogey’ Gaynair
Kurt Edelhagen’s Orchestra
Count Ossie
Rude Boys
The Wailers
The Clarendonian’s
Desmond Dekker’s ‘007’
Supersonics
Soul Vendors
Jackie Mittoo
Skatalites
The Gaylads
The Maytals
The Paragons
Alton Ellis
Johnny Nash ‘Hold me Tight’ – first international Rocksteady hit
Sir Lord Comic
King Stitt
Count Matchuki
King Tubby
Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry
DJ Kool Herc
Peter Tosh
Bunny Wailer
Linto Kwesi Hohnson
Sly & Robbie
Augustus Pablo
The Mighty Diamonds
The Gladiators
Joe Gibbs
Culture
The Gladiators
Joe Gibb
Culture
Dennis Brown
Burning Spear
The Abyssinians
Black Uhuru
Third World
Louisa Mark
The Clash
Elvis Costello
ttractions
The Police
The Slits
The Ruts
The Specials
Madness
The Selector
Wayne Smith ‘Under MiSlengTeng’
Shabba Ranks DJ
Chaka Demus & Pliers
Beenie Man
Bounty Killer
Roots Radics
Jungo Lawes
Yellow Man
IniKamoze
Charlie Chaplin
General Echo
Sonny Okusins
John Chibadura
Lucky Dube
Alpha Blondy
Buju Banton
Wu-Tang Clan
Jay-Z
Shabba Ranks
Capleton
Bongo Nation
Dave Kelly ‘Pepper Seed’
Beres Hammond
Joy Fairclough

Music Styles

Mento
Calypso
Rocksteady
Ska
Dub Music
Dancehall
Reggae
Soca
Jamaican Folk Music
Ja Folk Music
Reggae Fusion
Rythm ‘n’ Blues (R&B)
Soul
Lovers Rock
Jungle Music
Creole Folk Songs
Sfrican-derived syncopated rythms
Cajun Music
Zouk
Zydeco
Jamaican Jazz
Rap Music
Dub Poetry
Rockers Reggae
British Punk Rock
New Wave
Ragga Music
Raggamuffin
Electronic Music
Gangsta Rap
Hip Hop
Rock ‘n’ Roll or Indie Rock
Baccra Music
Hybrid Electronic Music
World Music

Essentials, influences

Steelpan
Rhumba Box
Mbira
Accordian
Nyabhingi drums
Rastafarian drumming
Toasting
Rapping
Deejay
Melodica
Habaners accent of Spain
Quadrille of France
Place Congo
Alpha Boys Scool in Kingston
Barrington Levy (music Recorder)
Sugar Minott (producer)
Rastafari
KuminPocomania
Revival Zion Churches
Hindu